Cristian Volpato: Roma's Australian wonderkid who turned down a World Cup call-up

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The 19-year-old has impressed for Jose Mourinho's side but opted against committing himself to the Socceroos when invited to Qatar 2022.

Unfancied heading into the World Cup, Australia's players stand on the edge of potential glory in Qatar, knowing that they are 90 minutes away from footballing immortality in a country that is still learning to love the beautiful game.

A draw against Denmark may well be enough for the Socceroos to reach the knockout stages of the competition for just the second time, while a win will guarantee progression for Graham Arnold's team.

Theirs is a squad of few star names, with perhaps Celtic midfielder Aaron Mooy – who had stints in the Premier League with Huddersfield Town and Brighton – the most recognisable to European fans.

If things had gone differently, though, then Australia could have had one of Serie A's rising stars amongst their number.

Roma attacking midfielder Cristian Volpato has already made an impact on the first team at Stadio Olimpico, and Arnold was keen for him to join up with the Socceroos squad in Qatar.

The 19-year-old turned them down, though, instead choosing to wait on making a decision over his international football.

Given his talent, it is a call that is unlikely to define his career. But what makes him so special, and why were Australia so keen to have him at the World Cup?

Let NXGN explain...

  1. Where it all began
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    Where it all began

    Volpato, whose family moved to Australia from Italy a few generations ago, was born in Camperdown in the suburbs of Sydney. He took up football at an early age and joined the AC Milan Soccer School in Sydney that was run by ex-Rossoneri midfielder Andrea Icardi.

    From there, he joined semi-professional outfit Sydney United 58 before being enrolled into the academy of Sydney FC.

    By the age of 13, though, things were not going well, and he was released by the A-League side before being picked up by their city rivals Western Sydney Warriors.

    However, it was not until 2019 that his talent was spotted by those outside Australia, as he travelled with the Wanderers to take part in a Malaysian youth tournament.

    Roma were one of the Wanderers' opponents at the competition and Volpato netted a hat-trick against the Giallorossi in a performance that led to scout Morgan De Sanctis insisting that the boy and his family travel to the Italian capital to undergo a trial.

  2. The big break

    Volpato landed in Rome in January 2020, and impressed enough to earn himself a three-year contract with the club.

    He began life in the Under-17s side but it was not until he joined the Primavera (U23s) team for the 2021-22 season that people in Italy began to take notice of his talent.

    He scored 11 goals in 28 games from his attacking midfield role, with his form catching the eye of first-team manager Jose Mourinho.

    The Portuguese has not been scared to blood youngsters since taking over the managerial reins at Stadio Olimpico and handed Volpato a senior debut as a late substitute against Inter in December 2021.

    His second appearance did not come for another two-and-a-half months, but when it did, Volpato took full advantage, netting his first professional goal as Roma fought back from 2-0 down to claim a draw against Verona.

  3. How it's going
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    How it's going

    Volpato, who turned 19 in mid-November, has made just eight first-team appearances since that Verona game, but did both score and assist when he came up against the same opponents in late October as Roma secured what would end up being their final win before the World Cup break.

    The teenager's heritage had allowed him to break into the Italy U20s squad, but when the time came for Australia to name their World Cup squad, Arnold was keen to add Volpato to the Socceroos' ranks.

    He rang Volpato three times in a bid to convince him but the youngster chose not to be part of the 26-man squad, and instead joined up with Italy's U21s.

    "I’ve seen lots of speculation about decisions I have supposedly taken at international level: the truth is that I am still just at the start of my professional career and I am totally focused on continuing that process at Roma," Volpato wrote in a message posted on his Instagram.

    "Making any sort of rushed decision about my international future at this early stage risks being extremely premature.

    "There will be plenty of time for me to take the decision that feels right for me but right now I know my focus needs to be on continuing to work hard each and every day in order to continue improving as a player."

  4. Biggest strengths

    Standing at 6'2'' (187cm), Volpato is tall for a modern attacking midfielder, but is still an elegant dribbler who shows great confidence when facing one-on-one situations.

    He possesses excellent close control and quick feet, while his passing and shooting ability makes him a threat whenever he picks up the ball in the final third.

    Those attributes were what caught Mourinho's eye, as well as how he conducts himself off the field.

    "The coach was struck not only by his qualities, but also by his character," Giovanni Demontis from the CT10 agency that represents Volpato tells GOAL. "We're talking about a boy with personality, who asks for the ball and doesn't hide on the pitch.

    "Mourinho had a fatherly attitude with him and pampered him, but he also stimulated him to improve some aspects on and off the pitch. The boy has treasured those lessons and tries to bring them onto the pitch match after match."

  5. Room for improvement
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    Room for improvement

    Unlike many teenage players who come into the senior game, Volpato does not want for physicality, but there are other areas of his game that make it clear he lacks experience.

    He needs to improve his decision-making in attacking areas, and can at times try to take on opposition defenders when he would be better off finding a team-mate.

    He will also be keen to add even more goals to his game as he matures but, overall, the signs are good that Volpato will continue thriving at the highest level.

  6. The next... Francesco Totti?
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    The next... Francesco Totti?

    Any player who thrives while wearing Roma's No.10 shirt, as Volpato did within the club's youth ranks, is going to be compared with the legendary Totti.

    Volpato, though, has more of a connection to the Giallorossi icon than most, having impressed Totti so much that the ex-Italy international insisted that he become the youngster's agent.

    "Totti eventually saw him play, went up to his mum and said, ‘Your son reminds me of how I used to play, I want to manage him,'" Volpato's former coach, Tony Basha, told Sporting News.

    There are clearly some similarities between the pair. Both tall and elegant players with supreme confidence, Volpato has certainly reminded some Roma fans of their favourite son with his performances so far.

    Whether he can match one of Serie A's most legendary players in terms of ability remains to be seen, but his potential is obvious.

  7. What comes next?

    Volpato signed a new contract in October that will keep him at Roma until the summer of 2026, and after appearing in each of the club's last four league matches before the break, he is expected to be a regular contributor during the second half of the season.

    Sassuolo have been linked with him on more than one occasion, though it would likely only be a loan deal should any move materialise.

    In terms of Volpato's international future, it is clear from his World Cup call that he wants to push for a place in an Italy squad that has been rejuvenated by Roberto Mancini in recent months.

    Australia fans will hope that he instead chooses the country of his birth down the line, but either way, Volpato's is a name to keep an eye on in the years to come.

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